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MADISON, NJ - By a two-to-one margin (48%-24%) American voters say they think it is illegal for the U.S. government to target its own citizens living abroad with drone attacks, according to a recent national survey of registered voters by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Just 24 percent say it is legal, agreeing with the position taken by the US Attorney and the Obama administration.
“The public clearly makes an assumption very different from that of the Obama administration or Mr. Brennan: the public thinks targeting American citizens abroad is out of bounds,” said Peter Woolley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and analyst for PublicMind.
Support or opposition to the legality of drone attacks on Americans does not vary by party identification. Republicans are just as likely as Democrats or independents to say it is illegal, or that the U.S. government can do it. And men are just as likely as women (47% and 48%) to think it is illegal, though more men than women say it is legal (30% versus 18%). Non-whites are significantly more likely than whites (57% versus 44%) to think it is illegal to target American citizens abroad.
However, by a wide six-to-one margin (75%-13%) voters approve of the U.S. military using drones to carry out attacks abroad “on people and other targets deemed a threat to the U.S.” Republicans, men and whites approve more strongly than Democrats, women, and non-whites, but approval is robust in all demographic categories.
Voters also approve by a strong three-to-one margin (65%-21%) the CIA using drones to carry out attacks abroad, but this approval is significantly less than approval for the U.S. military carrying out such attacks.
“Clearly some people think it’s important to make a distinction between the military and the CIA,” said Woolley. “In fact, in any given demographic category, approval of CIA drone attacks is 8 to 17 percentage points less than support for U.S. military attacks.”
One clear finding is that U.S. voters are paying attention to drones. About two-thirds (65%) say they’ve heard some or a lot about the pilotless machines. Fewer than one-in-six (15%) say they’ve heard nothing. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that they’ve heard a lot about the drones (45% compared to 29%). And twice as many men as women (51% versus 23%) claim to have heard “a lot” about the drones.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 814 registered voters was conducted nationally by telephone with both landline and cell phones from December 10 through December 16, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points.